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2-Minute Stress Relievers You Can Do at Work

By Phat X. Chiem | August 28, 2018 | Rally Health

Stress is the silent danger lurking in our offices. Studies have associated chronic stress with heart problemsimpaired sleepovereating, and depression, among other ailments.

A striking study published in March found that people who allowed negative feelings to linger after even minor stress were more likely to report health problems a decade later, compared with peers who were able to “let it go.” That can include chronic illnesses, functional impairments, and difficulties with everyday tasks.

We all understand that stress is not good for our health. But some of us deal with it in the best way we know how — by ignoring it. Like elite athletes, we work through the pain. We even brag about it.

“We overvalue the work culture, and we undervalue the relaxation culture,” says Meredith Sagan, MD, MPH, who runs a holistic psychiatry practice in Los Angeles. “We spend so much time developing our working muscle, we don’t have the balance of building our relaxation muscle.”

The first step in reducing stress is to develop more self-awareness of your own stress level. “So many people work in a chronic state of stress,” Sagan says, “they don’t even know they’re stressed. Then they try to take a vacation and they can’t sit still.”

By being aware of your stress while it’s happening, you can take immediate steps to calm your mind. And it doesn’t require a sweaty hour of yoga, either. Here are six things you can do that may help alleviate your stress in less time than it takes to write an email to your boss.

Focus on your breathing: There’s a reason the practices of meditation and yoga place a huge emphasis on controlling your breath. Deep, intentional breathing allows your body to relax and enter a state of calm.

In support of this notion, a 2017 study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine identified a cluster of neurons that link breathing to relaxation, attention, excitement, and anxiety.

Catherine Petit Wu, an executive coach in New York City who specializes in working with high achievers, offered this tip for a deep-belly breathing exercise known as the “5-5-7.” Sit with your feet on the floor, in a comfortable position. Inhale for a count of 5. Hold your breath for 5. Exhale for 7. Do this 10 times.

Notice the movement of your belly, and the air flowing in and out of your nose. Relax your jaw, your shoulders and other tense parts of your body.

“Your brain will say, ‘I'm breathing like I’m relaxed. I must be relaxed,’ ” Wu says. “No danger around. Let's deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, aka the stress response, and turn on the relax response.”

Say hello to a friend: Send a quick note to an old pal you haven’t seen in a while. Drop a comment on a friend’s Facebook or Instagram page. Chat up a colleague passing by your desk.

“Making social connections is very important for relieving stress,” says Alice Boyes, PhD, a former clinical psychologist and author of “The Anxiety Toolkit.” “What you’re doing is signaling to your brain that you’re safe. Building and maintaining relationships helps us feel secure. By reaching out, you’re also getting out of your head and whatever drama you’re feeling.”

Focus on your feet: Start by putting all of your attention on your lower extremities. Stretch your legs and wriggle your toes. Then curl them downward, clench your feet as tightly as it’s comfortable and hold for a few seconds. Now take a deep breath, exhale, and release, creating a sense of space.

Studies suggest that such techniques of progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing can be effective at controlling stress.

“As soon as we pay more attention to the body than the mind, stress instantly falls away,” Sagan explains. “This is a very simple skill to develop. You can do this while you’re sitting with your boss at a board meeting. Stress management doesn’t have to be separate from work. It can happen at work as you’re working.”

Balance your thoughts: When we’re feeling stressed about a big meeting or an impending deadline, the tendency is to focus on the worst possible outcome. Avoid this habit by learning to differentiate between stress that’s based on opinion and stress that’s based on facts, says Penny B. Donnenfeld, PhD, a Manhattan psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety and depression.

“You want to turn unproductive worrying into productive worrying,” Donnenfeld says. “Instead of predictions of catastrophe, you can think: ‘I need to get this thing to my boss tomorrow. Where in my schedule can I get this done?’ ”

Focusing on being present in your immediate surroundings can also help you relieve stress, says Shannon Jamail, a coach in Los Angeles with a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

“This can be as simple as taking five minutes to connect to your breath, and focus on being present by listing five things you see around you,” Jamail explains.

Think about four things that you can feel (the room temperature, a chair, your clothes, your heartbeat, your chest rising and falling, etc.), three things that you hear, two things that you can smell, and one thing that you can taste.

You should be in a calmer state than when you started.

Go on a mini mental vacation: Take a moment to go to a really wonderful place, but only in your mind. Be as detailed and specific in your imagination as possible. Think about what you’re seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, and smelling. So if you’re dreaming about being on the beach in Bali, you might imagine smelling the salty air and feeling the sun on your face.

“As soon as you start imagining you’re in a calmer state, your body will respond,” Donnenfeld says. “Your muscles will relax, your heart rate will drop, and the stress hormones in your blood will go down.”

Peer-reviewed studies have suggested that eliciting your body’s “relaxation response” as described by Donnenfeld can reduce high blood pressure and positively affect the expression of stress-related genes.

Take a humor break: Read something that makes you laugh. Send a friend a playful note. Watch a viral kitty video online. Isn’t this why the Internet was invented?

“The idea is to provide a really quick boost of positive emotion,” Boyes says.

Research has also shown that a habit of laughing promotes the healthy function of blood vessels, decreases your chances of a heart attack, and increases the release of endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals.

So even on crazy days, don’t let stress get the best of you. It may just take a minute — or two — to turn your mood around. And if you find yourself stressed frequently, know the signs that stress is affecting your body, and learn other tools to reduce stress at home or work.

Originally published June, 2015; updated August, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 Rally Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Phat X. Chiem
Rally Health